Many Americans Harbor Unfounded Fears About Ebola Outbreak: Survey
Misconceptions surround how the virus is transmitted, likelihood of disease spreading in United States
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans know little about how Ebola is transmitted and harbor unfounded fears about the possibility of an outbreak in the United States, a new survey shows.
About four in 10 adults said they are worried that there will be a major Ebola outbreak in the United States, and one-quarter are concerned that they or an immediate family member will get sick with the deadly virus in the next year, according to the latest Harvard School of Public Health poll.
However, those opinions don't match reality, the Harvard researchers noted. Ebola is not transmitted easily, there have been no cases of Ebola transmission in the United States, and the two American aid workers treated for the disease were infected while working closely with Ebola patients in West Africa.
The Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, have since recovered and were released from Emory University Hospital Thursday.
"Many people are concerned about a large-scale outbreak of Ebola occurring in the U.S.," researcher Gillian SteelFisher, deputy director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, said in a university news release.
"As they report on events related to Ebola, the media and public health officials need to better inform Americans of Ebola and how it is spread," she added.
In the survey, education appeared to play some role in clearly understanding the minimal threat posed by Ebola, with 50 percent of those with didn't finish high school worried about an outbreak in the United States, compared with 36 percent of those with some college education and 24 percent of those with a college degree.
The survey also found that 37 percent of people who didn't finish high school were concerned they or a family member would get sick with Ebola, compared with 22 percent of those with some college education and 14 percent of those with a college degree.
People who didn't finish high school were also less likely to closely follow news about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa (57 percent) compared to those with some college education (62 percent) or with a college degree (73 percent).
Two-thirds of the 1,000 adults who took part in the survey, conducted between Aug. 13 and Aug. 17, believe Ebola spreads easily. However, experts have said that Ebola is not transmitted through the air, but through direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, according to the World Health Organization .
The survey also found that 33 percent of respondents believe there is an effective medicine to treat people who are sick with Ebola. There is no proven medicine, but treating symptoms of the disease through measures such as maintaining fluids, oxygen levels and blood pressure can improve patients' chances of survival, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Aug. 21, 2,473 people have been infected and 1,350 people have died in an Ebola outbreak that began in West Africa last March. Four countries have reported infections: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about Ebola (http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/ ).
SOURCE: Harvard School of Public Health, news release, Aug. 21, 2014
Neutering Project Curbed Feral Cat Population
Rates of impoundment, euthanasia dropped dramatically in targeted area, study says
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- An intensive effort to sterilize feral cats reduced the number of felines taken to an animal shelter in Florida and euthanized, a new study reveals.
"We investigated whether we ever could neuter enough cats to slow their intake into animal control," Dr. Julie Levy, a professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a university news release.
"Neutering a few cats here and there wasn't making a big impact," she explained, "so we wanted to pick a focused area and throw all our resources into it."
The program was conducted in an area of Alachua County with a large population of feral cats. The researchers trapped and sterilized more than 2,300 feral cats, or about 54 percent of the estimated population of feral cats in the targeted area. After neutering, the cats were returned to their original location or adopted.
The number of cats taken to the local animal shelter fell 70 percent after the neutering program -- from 13 to 4 cats per 1,000 residents. Euthanasia of cats decreased 95 percent -- from 8 to less than 1 per 1,000 residents, the researchers said.
In the rest of the county, the number of cats brought into shelters fell 13 percent (from 16 to 14 per 1,000 residents) and the number of cats euthanized declined 30 percent (from 10 to 7 per 1,000 residents), according to the study recently published in the Veterinary Journal.
"The figures were incredible as were the adoptions," Levy said. "Adoption wasn't part of the original plan, but it happened organically as residents offered to take in kittens and the friendlier adults."
This type of targeted sterilization could save the lives of some of the millions of cats and other animals euthanized each year in shelters across the United States, according to the researchers.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has more about spaying and neutering (https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/spay-neuter.aspx ).
SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, Aug. 20, 2014
Simple Steps Make Shots Less Scary for Kids, Nurse Says
Parents can help their children handle the sting of getting vaccinated
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Many children get anxious or afraid when they have to get a vaccination, but there are a number of ways that parents can make these shots easier for their kids, an expert suggests.
The first step is to explain to children in an age-appropriate way that the vaccinations help protect their health, said Rita John, director of the pediatric primary care nurse practitioner program at Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City.
"Children need to know that vaccines aren't a punishment or something negative, vaccines are something that keeps them from getting sick," John said in a Columbia news release. "When parents are anxious, they pass that fear on to their kids. The best way to talk about vaccines is to keep the conversation positive and focused on the benefits of vaccination."
Before a vaccination, you can reduce toddlers' and preschoolers' anxiety if you give them a toy medical kit so that they can give pretend shots to you or a favorite doll or other toy.
When you arrive for the shot, ask the clinician to use a numbing cream or spray to limit the pain caused by the needle. Blowing on a bubble maker or a pinwheel can help distract younger children during vaccinations, while listening to music, playing games or texting may benefit older children and teens.
"If the kids think something is going to reduce their pain, there can be a placebo effect where the technique works because they expect it to work," John explained.
"It doesn't matter so much what you use to make your child more comfortable so long as you do something that acknowledges that they may experience some pain and that they can do something to make it hurt less," she added.
Be sure to reward and/or praise children after a vaccination. For example, give stickers to younger children. "You want the final part of the experience to make kids feel like even if they suffered some momentary pain, it was worth it," John said.
"Good play preparation, a positive attitude about immunization, and bringing something to distract kids during the shots can all help make the experience better," she concluded.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about childhood immunization (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childhoodimmunization.html ).
SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, Aug. 13, 2014
College Prep 101
Expert offers tips on how to help students adjust to life on their own for the first time
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- College can be a challenging time for young people, but there are a number of things they can do to make the most of their new life, an expert says.
This is "a time to adjust, explore, meet new people and learn to manage the temptations of new freedom," Luis Manzo, executive director of student wellness and assessment at St. John's University in New York City, said in a university news release.
"Not all learning takes place in the classroom. College is a time when students transition to adulthood, and the first few weeks of freshman year set the tone," he added.
Freshmen should take part in orientation sessions and other activities meant to help introduce them to college life, and try to meet as many people as possible, Manzo suggested.
If a student who has just started college says he or she is homesick or not fitting in, parents should encourage them to try to meet people in the cafeteria, go to a movie or ask a roommate to do a workout session.
If a student's social issues seem more serious, parents can suggest that he or she visit campus services, Manzo said.
The demands of college are much greater than those of high school, and require time management and good study skills, Manzo said. Students should use a planner to organize their schedule. Along with having classes and study time on their schedule, they should be sure to include exercise, socializing and other activities.
Anxiety can be a problem when adjusting to college. Students need to find ways to deal with and reduce stress, such as walking and other types of physical activity, reading a book for pleasure, and making time for oneself. It's also important not to try to do too much, Manzo said.
Freshmen also need to know the locations for college health and counseling centers, and to think carefully before making decisions about alcohol, drugs and sex.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about college health (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/collegehealth.html ).
SOURCE: St. John's University, news release, August 2014
Cosmetic Eye Procedure May Ease Migraines, Small Study Says
Eyelid surgery may help treat severe headaches, but not everyone's convinced
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cosmetic eyelid surgery involving specific nerves may do more than improve your looks -- the procedure may also provide migraine relief for some, according to new research.
The technique involves making incisions in the upper eyelid to deactivate so-called "trigger" nerves. This process also lifts the lid, a technique known as blepharoplasty.
The new approach is an alternative to another surgery sometimes used to treat migraines. That one approaches the nerves under the skin but starts at the scalp.
Both procedures are known as trigger-site deactivation surgeries. Some neurologists and others who care for people with migraines view the procedures as unproven.
But when the surgery is used in appropriate patients, migraine improvement is common, said study researcher Dr. Oren Tessler, an assistant professor of clinical surgery at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans School of Medicine.
"Ninety percent of our patients had over 50 percent improvement in their migraines," he said. "After a year's time, 51 percent had no migraines."
"As a bonus they got an upper eyelid surgery," added Tessler, who is also director of plastic surgery at University Hospital, New Orleans.
Not everyone agrees that this surgery is helpful, or even that freeing trapped nerves gets to the root of what causes migraines.
"I think it's conceivable at least in principle that a nerve could be trapped," said Dr. Vincent Martin, co-director of the headache and facial pain program at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine in Ohio.
Martin said that while entrapped nerves may worsen migraines, he's not convinced that they're a cause of migraines.
In addition, "There are weaknesses in the way the study was designed," he said, citing the lack of a control group. All 35 patients had the surgery so they couldn't be compared against a "sham" surgery group, a common method in scientific studies.
"There's a huge 'placebo effect' from surgical procedures," Martin explained. In other words, they may think they feel better simply because they received treatment.
The study, published online recently in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, included 30 women and five men. Their average age was 46.
Tessler said patients have to be selected carefully because the surgery is meant for those whose migraines are caused by a compression of nerves as they exit the skull.
"You release the nerve and you remove the irritation," Tessler said.
In his study, the average number of headache days reported by patients declined from 18.5 a month on average to fewer than four a month one year after the surgery.
"There have been no major complications," he said. "Every patient will have some numbness because the nerve is in shock." That numbness usually resolves, but a small amount may remain, he said. His patients tell him it's a small price to pay for migraine relief.
The fees for the surgery, done as a cosmetic procedure, vary by doctor and region of the country. According to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, the average physician fee is about $3,000. The fee does not include any charges for the facility and anesthesia.
Tessler said the surgery, sometimes covered by insurance, takes about three hours. An incision is made in the upper eyelid to get to the specific nerves and release them. "It [also] takes away the bulge of the eyelid," he said, giving a more youthful look.
Acknowledging the small study size, Tessler said more research is needed. None of the researchers disclosed financial interests in any of the products, devices or drugs discussed in the study.
Martin also believes more study is needed. This technique is "theoretically plausible, but not proven," he said. "Most neurologists and headache doctors don't think the evidence is sufficient to recommend this surgery at this time."
For more information on migraines, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/migraine/migraine.htm ).
SOURCES: Oren Tessler, M.D., assistant professor, clinical surgery, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans School of Medicine, and director, plastic surgery, University Hospital, New Orleans; Vincent Martin, M.D., co-director, Cincinnati Headache and Facial Pain Program, University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, Ohio; July 31, 2014, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, online
Food Allergies More Common Among Inner City Kids, Study Finds
10 percent of children tracked had allergy to peanuts, eggs or milk
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Inner city children have a higher-than-normal risk of developing food allergies, a new study finds.
Researchers followed 516 inner city children in four U.S. cities -- Baltimore, Boston, New York and St. Louis -- from birth until age 5 and found that at least 10 percent of them developed an allergy to milk, eggs or peanuts.
Because only the three most common types of food allergies were included in the study, the actual number of inner city youngsters with food allergies may be even higher, the researchers said.
Overall, 6 percent of young children and nearly 3 percent of adults in the United States have at least one food allergy, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Previous research found that inner city children also have a higher risk of asthma and environmental allergies, noted the authors of the study published online Aug. 13 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
"Our findings are a wake-up call, signaling an urgent need to unravel the causes, contributors and mechanisms that drive the high prevalence of food allergies among an already vulnerable group known for its high risk of asthma and environmental allergies," study senior investigator Dr. Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, said in a Hopkins news release.
The most common food allergy among children in the study was to peanuts (6 percent), followed by eggs (4.3 percent) and milk (2.7 percent). Along with the 10 percent of children confirmed to have food allergies, 17 percent had possible food allergies and 29 percent were "sensitive but tolerant" to certain foods.
Breast-fed children appeared to be at higher risk for food allergies, while those who lived in homes with higher levels of endotoxin -- a molecule released by certain types of bacteria -- had a lower risk.
The researchers said the link between endotoxin exposure and lower risk of food allergies support the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that exposure to certain microbes early in life helps protect children against asthma and allergies.
The study also found that children with food allergies were more likely to suffer from environmental allergies, wheezing and the allergic skin condition eczema.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about food allergy (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/foodallergy.html ).
SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Aug. 14, 2014
Health Highlights: Aug. 22, 2014
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Two New 'Secondary Infection' Ebola Cases in Nigeria
Two new confirmed cases of Ebola in Nigeria are the first to occur among people who did not have direct contact with an ill traveler from Liberia, officials say.
The two new patients are spouses of people who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer and later became sick with Ebola and died, said Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu, NBC News reported.
Sawyer had Ebola when he arrived in Nigeria last month and infected 11 other people before he died. The two new cases bring the total number of confirmed Ebola infections in Nigeria to 14, including Sawyer. Five of the patients have died, four have recovered and four are being treated, Chukwu said.
So far, the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria has infected 2,500 people and killed 1,350 of them, according to the World Health Organization, NBC News reported.
Fast Food 'Happy Meals' Should be Healthier: NYC City Councilor
A New York City councilor wants calorie and salt restrictions on any children's fast food meals that include a toy.
A bill introduced Thursday by Councilman Benjamin Kallos would require such meals to have no more than 500 calories and 600 milligrams of sodium. Less than 35 percent of the calories should come from fat, less than 10 percent from saturated fats, and less than 10 percent from sugar, CNN reported.
The meals would also be required to have a serving of fruit, vegetables or whole grains.
"It is difficult enough for parents to give their children healthy food without the fast food industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year advertising to children, and nearly half of that on toys," Kallos said in a press release, CNN reported.
"If restaurants are going to incentivize children, they should incentivize them to eat healthy," he added.
If it's approved by the health committee, the bill will go to city council and then to Mayor Bill de Blasio, CCN reported.
Ice Bucket Challenge Has Raised $41 Million for ALS Research
More than $41 million has been raised to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- since the "Ice Bucket Challenge" became a social media sensation.
The ALS Association said it received $41.8 million in donations between July 29 and Aug. 21, with more than 739,000 new donors giving money to the non-profit group that funds worldwide research to find treatments and a cure for ALS, The New York Times reported.
During the year that ended Jan. 31, 2013, the ALS Association received $19.4 million in total donations, according to Internal Revenue Service data.
The dramatic increase in donations brought in by the "Ice Bucket Challenge" will give a huge boost to efforts to find treatments and a cure for ALS, and to support services for patients, said ALS Association spokeswoman Carrie Munk, The Times reported.
The group currently supports 98 research projects worldwide and recently announced funding for 21 more.
About 30,000 Americans have ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leads to total paralysis and death. Patients typically die two to five years after diagnosis. One U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug slows disease progression, and other drugs are being tested in clinical trials, according to the ALS Association.
Health Tip: Incorporating Flexibility Training
Stretching, for example, can help improve range of motion
(HealthDay News) -- Flexibility training, such as stretching, is an often-ignored type of exercise designed to improve the body's range of motion.
The American Council on Exercise says benefits of flexibility training may include:
Better posture and improved freedom of movement.
Improved relaxation, both mentally and physically.
Reduced muscle soreness and tension.
Lower risk of injury.
Many U.S. Workers on Disability Use Narcotic Painkillers, Study Finds
Experts worry about addiction, drug misuse
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A growing number of Americans on work disability chronically use powerful prescription painkillers, according to a new study.
Researchers found that between 2007 and 2011, about 44 percent of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits were prescribed narcotic painkillers each year. And the percentage using the drugs long-term rose from 21 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2011.
Experts said the trend is worrying because narcotic painkillers -- which include OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin -- can be addictive, or abused by people with existing drug problems.
What's more, when it comes to typical workplace injuries, narcotic painkillers are not a good long-term solution, the study authors noted.
"The effectiveness is at best uncertain, and the risks are very real," said researcher Ellen Meara, of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Lebanon, N.H.
The findings, reported in the September issue of the journal Medical Care, aren't surprising, Meara noted. Nationwide, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers -- also known as opioids -- surged 300 percent after 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On Thursday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said it was proceeding with tough new controls on painkillers containing hydrocodone, which has been tied to a surge in dangerous addictions across the United States.
The new restrictions would cover prescription narcotic drugs such as Vicodin, Lortab and their generic equivalents, putting them in the same regulatory class as painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet and codeine. Patients will now only have access to a three-month supply of the drug and will have to see a doctor to get any refills.
The new Medical Care study focused on Americans younger than 65 who qualified for Medicare benefits because of long-standing work disabilities. Most had a "musculoskeletal" condition, such as chronic back, neck or joint pain, which don't, in the long run, respond well to prescription painkillers.
"In the short term, people get some relief," said Dr. Eric Collins, physician-in-chief at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., which specializes in psychiatric and addiction treatment.
"But there's no good evidence that long-term use is effective for non-cancer pain," Collins said.
Despite that, Meara's team found an increase in chronic painkiller use -- defined as six or more prescriptions. By 2011, nearly one-quarter of disabled workers were using a prescription painkiller long-term.
On the other hand, prescriptions overall dipped slightly. They peaked in 2010, when just under 45 percent of disabled workers got a painkiller prescription. A year later, that was down one percentage point.
"I do think there will be less prescribing now," Collins said, noting the national concern over what many call an "opioid epidemic."
According to the CDC, about 12 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2010 -- meaning they used the drugs for nonmedical reasons. And in recent years, roughly 15,000 Americans have died annually from overdosing on the drugs. That's triple the rate in 1999.
Both federal and state governments have taken steps to control painkiller prescriptions. Some states now require doctors to check state-run prescription databases before prescribing a painkiller to help spot patients who are "doctor-shopping" to get multiple prescriptions of the same drug.
In this study, people who were chronically taking painkillers often had multiple providers. But Meara said it's not clear how many of them might have been doctor-shopping.
Multiple factors contribute to the widespread use of prescription painkillers, Collins said.
At one time, prescription painkillers were rarely used. But starting in the 1980s, there was growing concern that many people in chronic pain weren't adequately treated. Pain came to be considered the "fifth vital sign," Collins noted, and doctors began to increasingly turn to narcotic painkillers.
The drugs do bring quick relief -- at least in the short term. "It takes a lot longer to talk to patients about physical therapy, exercise and diet changes to lose weight, which might help with musculoskeletal pain," Collins said.
Plus, he noted, for people who have long been sedentary, the idea of becoming active when they're in pain could seem daunting.
"I think a lot of providers and patients may be overvaluing the immediate relief, and not taking the long view," Collins said.
Besides the risk of addiction, there are more common side effects of the drugs, such as chronic constipation. Also, research suggests that long-term use of prescription painkillers can ultimately worsen chronic pain, Collins said.
The truth is, Meara said, treating chronic pain is difficult. Common problems such as low back pain have no one-size-fits-all therapy, but a number of non-drug options exist, such as exercise, over-the-counter pain medications, acupuncture and biofeedback.
"We need to be cautious about moving to these drugs too quickly," Meara said. "And I think we need to be concerned about whether we're taking care of these patients adequately. We need to do a better job."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on prescription painkiller risks (http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/PainkillerOverdoses/index.html ).
SOURCES: Ellen Meara, Ph.D., associate professor, Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Lebanon, N.H.; Eric Collins, M.D., physician-in-chief, Silver Hill Hospital, New Canaan, Conn.; September 2014, Medical Care
One Part of the Brain Doesn't Age, Study Suggests
Spatial attention skills don't seem to decline over time
FRIDAY, Aug. 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- At least one part of an older person's brain can still process information as well as younger people, according to new research.
Researchers compared the spatial attention skills of 60 older adults and younger people. Spatial attention is important for many areas of life, from walking and driving to picking up and using items.
"Our studies have found that older and younger adults perform in a similar way on a range of visual and non-visual tasks that measure spatial attention," Dr. Joanna Brooks, who conducted the experiments as a visiting research fellow at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a university news release.
"Both younger (aged 18 to 38 years) and older (55 to 95 years) adults had the same responses for spatial attention tasks involving touch, sight or sound," noted Brooks, who is now a research fellow in healthy aging at the Australian National University.
The findings were presented at a recent conference in Australia organized by the Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Society.
"When we think of aging, we think not just of the physical aspects but also the cognitive [mental] side of it, especially when it comes to issues such as reaction time, which is typically slower among older adults. However, our research suggests that certain types of cognitive systems in the right cerebral hemisphere -- like spatial attention -- are 'encapsulated' and may be protected from aging," Brooks said.
The results challenge current thinking, she said. "We now need to better understand how and why some areas of the brain seem to be more affected by aging than others," she added.
This type of research could also improve understanding of how diseases such as Alzheimer's affect the brain, the researchers said.
Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
HealthinAging.org offers tips for keeping your brain young (http://www.healthinaging.org/resources/resource:tips-for-keeping-your-brain-young/ ).
SOURCE: University of Adelaide, news release, August 2014